Active Teaching

Educators use the term active learning to describe learning through play, group discussion, one-minute papers, or anything else that requires learners to use knowledge as they’re acquiring it. Study after study has shown that it’s more effective than sitting and listening, which its proponents refer to as “passive learning”.

Garrett Grolemund recently started using analogous phrases to describe two approaches to teaching. Where passive learning is listening to, passive teaching is talking at; while passive learners use new knowledge later, passive teachers don’t modify what they’re saying or where they’re going as they’re teaching. In contrast, active teaching involves trying out “what if?” scenarios proposed by learners. or modifying an example on the fly based on learners’ interests or puzzled expressions. In short, it describes situations in which teachers use what they learn from and about students as they learn it.

Passive Teaching Active Teaching
measure twice, cut once frequent course correction
a train on tracks a four-wheel drive
classical music jazz
slides live coding
Direct Instruction Inquiry-Based Learning
fall flat on your face or wander so far off track that you miss the lesson's goals fail to teach what your actual learners need to learn on a particular day

I strongly prefer active teaching. As I tweeted last week, I use a sequence of formative assessments like a series of chord changes to improvise over rather than having what most people would call a lesson plan. A lot of other excellent instructors prefer a fully worked out lesson plan that they can play like an orchestral score. In the end, I suspect most of us choose an approach based on what we’ve seen most often and on our own personalities, neither of which guarantees that we’re making the absolute best choice.

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